The Slatest

Ferguson FAQ: What Charge Is Darren Wilson Facing and Other Questions Answered

Why is this happening?

Photo by Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

There have been few answers forthcoming from state and police officials about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and the results of the investigations into Michael Brown’s killing. We’ve tried to fill in some of the gaps with our own answers to some frequently asked questions. If you have any other questions you’d like us to try to answer, please leave them in the comments.

For what crimes could Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, be charged?

Wilson will very likely not be charged with first-degree murder, as Marcia McCormick of Saint Louis University School of Law explained to NPR. He could be charged with second-degree murder (for “knowingly causing death”), but voluntary manslaughter would be more likely. McCormick says voluntary manslaughter is legally defined as “knowingly causing death under a sudden passion with adequate cause (an assault on the officer).” As University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s David Harris pointed out in the same report, getting juries to convict police officers is historically very difficult. The jurists in such a case would come not just from Ferguson, but from St. Louis County, which is 70 percent white.

There are, of course, lesser potential charges such as excessive force and police misconduct. It’s worth noting, according to research conducted from 1994 to 1998 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, only 0.44 percent of incidences of police force were considered excessive by reviews boards.

Can the reporters who were arrested without charges in that McDonald’s and others sue the police departments in question for false arrest?

Maybe. A suit can be brought for false arrest if it can be demonstrated that the police lacked “probable cause,” which Daniel Taylor of FindLaw describes as “facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe a crime is, has been, or will be soon committed.” The arrest report would be critical to any potential suit, but the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly weren’t shown one when they were arrested in McDonald’s last week.​

What is the chain of command with the National Guard in town?

The National Guard troops stationed in Ferguson are reporting directly to Capt. Ron Johnson and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. 

How many National Guard troops are in Ferguson now?

We contacted the Missouri National Guard, but they didn’t give any specific numbers, saying only that their operations were “limited in scope.”

How long does it usually take for a police report to be issued to the public in officer related shootings?

It varies by municipality and situation. Releasing a report is up to the discretion of the police department. Most states have laws stating that police reports must be available to the public under state public record laws. Yet district attorneys exercise great discretion over these reports, especially when it comes to shootings involving officers. Following a shooting in Massachusetts last year, for example, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett refused to release the name of a police officer who shot and killed a Danvers man. Missouri’s Sunshine Laws allow for police records to be withheld if they contain “information that is reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger.” Maryland doesn’t release any names or information in officer-related shootings. The FBI recently reported that local police are involved in some 400 lethal civilian shootings per year. Staggeringly, these numbers are drawn from voluntarily reported numbers. The actual figures are probably higher. Alas, the trend is towards less public knowledge, not more. 

Why are people mad at CNN

The short version: People are mad at CNN for supposedly continuing the sort of media narrative that makes people think that the shooting of unarmed black boys and men is acceptable in the first place (i.e. tweets like this that focus attention on looting). Further, CNN’s Don Lemon (who is black) has previously used his platform to speak about “black on black crime” and the need for law and order, which has been seen by some as a distraction and a perpetuation of respectability politics. CNN anchor Rosemary Church did not help matters when she suggested that water cannons be used in place of tear gas.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Ferguson protests.